Purse Strings: Girl Scouts of the USA




It’s that time of year, again, and it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ve already placed your order for a few boxes of Samoas, Thin Mints or your other favorite Girl Scout cookie. But what do you really know about the extraordinary organization behind those tasty little treats?

On March 12, 1912, Judith Gordon Low gathered 18 local girls and founded Girl Scouts in Savannah, Georgia.  Ms. Low had a keen understanding that dedicated and dynamic leaders were vital to helping girls develop their full potential.  Today, the Girl Scouts organization boasts 3.2 million girl and adult members worldwide, and is led by a Chief Executive Officer, a National Board of Directors, headquarters staff, and volunteers and professional staff in over 100 local councils across the U.S

Prior to taking the helm of the Girls Scouts of the USA organization, current CEO Anna Maria Chavez enjoyed an illustrious career which included posts as Deputy Chief of Staff for Urban Relations and Community Development for the former Governor of Arizona and current U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano.

With preparations for the Girl Scouts’ Centennial celebration in Savannah, GA in full- swing, Wiles was curious to know what it’s like to lead one of the most recognizable and cherished organizations in U.S. history.  Here’s some of what Ms. Chavez shared with us…


Wiles:  This year, the mandate for Girl Scouts of the USA is “Two Thousand Twelve is the year of the girl.”  What does that mean?

AMC:  This is such an amazing year for us.  It’s a once-in-a-life time opportunity for us to focus the nation’s attention on girls and the lives they lead. 2012 is also the year Girl Scouts turns 100 years old, so we’re using this celebratory year as a platform to launch our cause campaign called “togetherthere.org.”  This new initiative is a call to action for the entire country to support girls and their leadership development.  Our goal is to create awareness so that more adults understand and get involved by creating supportive environments that will help nurture the girls of this generation – across all sectors – and set them on the path for success.


Wiles:  With such a powerful legacy, how does the senior leadership of Girl Scouts maintain a balance between tradition and progress

AMC:  With 100 years of rich tradition, our legacy is very important to us.  Over those 100 years, millions of girls have become members of Girl Scouts.  In fact, we currently have around 59 million living alumnae. We maintain a balance between tradition and progress by keeping leadership development a priority, and, simultaneously, continuing to listen to our girls.  Our priorities are based on whatever our girls are focused on; so, considering their best interests and creating an environment that supports those interests help shape our curriculum.


Wiles: Girls Scouts of the USA is an extremely sustainable brand.  To what do you attribute the organization’s longevity and enduring impact?

AMC: From the beginning, the Girl Scouts organization has let girls take the lead in their local community; and we have never veered from our fundamental goal to create girls who will make an impact.  We continue to design our programs to meet the needs of the girls we serve, and that ultimately creates a passion for the organization and helps our girls connect with other people.  And, if you look around, you can see that our members are leading the way:  in government, for instance, several female cabinet members are Girl Scouts alumnae – including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.  In the business world, many of the top female CEOs have roots in the Girl Scouts. Our alumnae help reinforce the notion that Girl Scouts is a very consistent, iconic and positive brand for girls.


Wiles:  What makes the Girl Scouts organization still relevant to young women today?

AMC: After 100 years, we are the girl expert!  As an organization, we are laser-like with our focus to serve girls and to understand their needs and aspirations.  We currently serve 8% of all girls between the ages of 5-17 – in every zip code and in every environment.  We work to make Girl Scouts available to as many girls as possible by keeping the cost to join down to just twelve dollars ($12). We also offer opportunities for girls to join as either individuals or through foundations.  And, most importantly, we go to the girls – wherever they are: in schools, in after-school programs, we’re even in detention centers.  They’re not Girl Scouts going into the detention centers, but they’re Girl Scouts when they come out. We hold firmly to the belief that every girl deserves to be part of this organization.


Wiles: What are some of the major societal ills or challenges that young girls face today, and how does Girl Scouts of the USA help alleviate them?

AMC: Girls today have a totally different lifestyle than they have ever had.  For starters, girls lead lives that are much more intense and pressured than in the past.  They’re inundated with so many messages – that they’re not fit enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, etc. The pressure of being a girl, today, can be extremely intense.  It’s critical for girls to be surrounded by supportive adults and to participate in groups that help them build their confidence and self-esteem.

Our Leadership Development Program is based on 15 outcomes that we can measure, such as increasing the areas of her skill set, building her confidence, providing parents an opportunity to learn about girls, developing age-appropriate activities, and working around technology.  As they develop different interests, we work to provide a safe, supportive learning environment in which they can continue to grow.


Wiles:  What is the role of the First Lady as Honorary President of Girl Scouts and how does she work with the organization?

AMC:  We are a non-partisan organization and we have been extremely honored – beginning with Mrs. Hoover – to engage every First Lady as our Honorary President. Mrs. Obama has been very committed to engaging children around being active and healthy through her Let’s Move initiative, and 50 of our girls recently joined her in Orlando, Florida to participate in activities celebrating the 2nd anniversary of Let’s Move.


Wiles:  From its earliest days, the Girl Scouts organization has embraced diversity. How has valuing diversity enriched the organization, overall, and why does embracing diversity make sense as a business practice?

AMC:  Diversity has always been a core value for Girls Scouts. During the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called Girl Scouts a force for desegregation because we’ve always embraced girls from every ethnicity and socioeconomic background.   Our girls continue to come from every sector of our society, and, our membership truly represents the changing demographics across the country.  For instance, as the Hispanic population has grown in this country, the number of Hispanics in the Girl Scout ranks has increased.  As leaders, we need to monitor demographic trends to ensure that our programming adequately meets the needs of the population we’re serving.


Wiles: What is your engagement strategy for alumnae and why is this important?

AMC: With 1 in every 2 women in United States having been a part of Girl Scouts in their lives, it’s obvious that the organization has had a tremendous impact on our society.  In fact, many women tell us that they are successful today because of what they learned in Girl Scouts, so we want to touch all of those alumnae in one form or fashion. Our goal is to re-engage our alumnae so they can help spread the opportunity they enjoyed in Girl Scouts to other girls.  There are so many ways they can help – by helping with recruiting efforts, donating time as a troop leader and in activities, or even by engaging other men and women to donate. The legacy of Girl Scouts belongs to all of us, and it’s ours to share!


Wiles:  What are some organizational highlights, milestones and achievements – past or present – that make you most proud and why?

AMC: So many amazing things have happened in 100 years, but there are two things that I am particularly proud of:

First, the scale of the organization. With 3.2 million members all over the globe, and with 1 in every 2 adult women in the United States having been a Girl Scout at some point in their lives, Girl Scouts is clearly one of the most iconic organizations ever. There are very few organizations that can claim the sort of reach we that can.

Secondly, our Cookie Program!  A lot of people don’t know this, but our Cookie Program is the largest entrepreneurial program for girls in the world.  It generates roughly 760 million dollars in revenue annually, and there’s a lot more that goes into it than just selling cookies!  Through the program, the girls learn fiscal responsibility, budgeting and time management skills, and they set business goals and marketing plans for themselves.  The Cookie Program also teaches them community service and engagement skills as they plan out how to approach potential customers and to which local nonprofit organization they will donate the proceeds from their cookie sales.


Wiles:  What’s in store for Girl Scouts in the next 100 years?

AMC: In addition to our Togetherthere.org campaign, we’ve recently launched a billion- dollar fundraising effort to reach more girls.  Our goal is to grow and serve more girls.  Again, we currently serve 8% of girls aged 5 – 17, so there are a lot more girls we’d like to reach.  We read a lot of data regarding girls, and it’s very sad to see the negative thoughts girls have regarding themselves and the opportunities for their futures.  We have to change girls’ perceptions and allow them to define leadership for themselves.  Whatever “success” means to girls, we want to be in a position to help them achieve it.


If you would like to learn more about becoming a Girl Scout, a volunteer or how to re-engage as an alumna, please visit: www.girlscouts.org.

For more information about Girl Scouts of the USA’s call to action for 2012, please visit: www.togetherthere.org.



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